The low-down Hide
Are you new to board meetings?
You might find them intimidating environments to sit in, let alone chair. But given the personality type and/or professional background of many founders, it’s not fear they need to overcome. It’s lack of structure.
Luckily, there’s a tried and tested strategy for everything in startup land – a format to fall back on that boardroom veterans will know, recognise, and respect you for. Start by…
Getting the cadence right
Board meetings should be scheduled quarterly. More frequent and you risk your meetings becoming redundant, less frequent and disconnection can emerge.
Get the timings right
Each board meeting should run for roughly two hours. Any longer tends to risk loss of information through loss of attention span. These two hours can be broken up into 20 to 30 minute segments for each section on your agenda.
We suggest breaking your meetings down as follows (which we’ll expand on below):
- CEO update – 30 minutes
- Sales – 30 minutes
- Department – 20 to 30 minutes
- Financials – 10 to 20 minutes
- Team – 10 to 20 minutes
- Admin – 5 to 10 minutes.
Breaking up your meetings this way will streamline discussions and quickly create a routine, so people know what to expect and prepare for next time.
1. CEO update
Founders slash CEOs should have a top down view of everything. This view should be introduced to all seated. Start high, then drill down.
Your CEO update should include:
- What’s good? What’s bad? What’s changed in those goodness and badness levels since the last meeting?
- What have you learned since last quarter? (This will help prevent you repeating mistakes – and therefore conversations – over and again.)
- Metrics. They’re dry, but they’re necessary. These will depend on your org – are you tracking user growth? Revenue growth? MMR? ARR? DAU, WAU, or MAU? Make sure you’re tracking the same metrics every time. What gets measured is what gets managed.
- Goals, ambitions, and the priority of those goals and ambitions. Base these on the above three things, and listen to feedback on them (necessity, relevance, feasibility) from your team.
Sales are your lifeblood, and this is your Head of Sales’ time to (hopefully) shine. He or she should come prepared with a list of statistics for each board meeting. These should include:
- The results of the previous quarter
- The pipeline for the upcoming quarter
- A team performance report
Results should be tracked against sales forecasts to measure what was promised against what was delivered.
If results aren’t what was promised, what’s the reason? Is there a weakness in the sales team, or do they need more support? Some advice that can be applied to all segments of your board meeting: seek not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for your company.
Each department head must have a voice.
Having each one bring updates to the table keeps your fingers in all departmental pies – a non-negotiable for those wanting to avoid CEO disconnect.
Don’t create a space for concerns or problems only – successes, ideas, and opinions should be given just as much airtime.
While financials will likely have come up already, 10 to 20 minutes dedicated to them ensures trickles don’t become tsunamis. Thanks to this segment, margins don’t narrow and budgets don’t stretch without your knowledge.
Company culture comes from the top down. How you relate to your higher-level staff filters down. Neglect it, and it will take on a life of its own.
This is the time to discuss the pragmatic stuff: staffing, recruitment, training, performance, delegation, roles/org chart – but it’s also time to check in with – for want of a less twee phrase – holistic company happiness.
Remember that board members should bring valuable input and influence on staffing thanks to their networks and/or management experience. This is ten minutes where it’s appropriate and sometimes necessary to lean on them.
Save housekeeping for the end of your meeting. Because everyone has housekeeping, it is never ending, and it will take over the whole meeting.
It’s also really boring (“while we’re on the subject, we’re out of staples”) and will distract and sidetrack people.
There are other ways to manage the tedious day-to-day, and in the SaaS world, there’s no excuse – use Todoist notepads, create a Slack channel, or use project management boards like Asana or Evernote. Your board time is valuable, and should be kept as high-level as possible.
Even if you’re still feeling that pinch of boardroom phobia, lead your board through a couple, and they’ll become second nature. And don’t forget to send out an agenda ahead of time.